Meet Ruth Li, a native of Qingdao, China, now living in Israel, and a master instructor of the ancient Chinese art of Tai Chi Chuan, better known to Westerners as Tai Chi. Li, 57, whose Chinese name is Yunghu’a, has been teaching Tai Chi for more than 30 years, 16 of them in Israel. A winner of several gold medals in international competitions, Li has made this ancient form of physical and mental exercise not just a physical activity, but a way of life.
“Tai Chi Chuan is a wonderful way of helping people deal with stress as well as increasing the body’s blood circulation. It is more than just a simple exercise program, more like a life-long technique toward good health and well-being, designed to change a person’s outlook on life,” Li told Metro recently while preparing for one of her group training classes at Alexander Park in Netanya’s Neot Shaked neighborhood.
Li began the study of Tai Chi as a child of “less than seven years,” she
says proudly when Metro interviewed her following a Cheng Tai Chi
session in the park. “I received a Tai Chi teaching certificate at age
14, and had already been involved in national competitions in my native
China,” she added.
She married her first husband, a Chinese man, while still living in
Qingdao. Her son, Ben, now 30, was born from this first marriage. Ruth
met her second husband, “an Israeli Jewish man,” who was visiting China
on business. He convinced her to follow him to Israel, where she arrived
with Ben in 1995. They settled in Netanya, where she later converted to
Judaism “eight years ago.” She and her second husband later separated.
Shortly after arriving in Israel, Ruth began teaching variations of Tai Chi disciplines of the Chinese Wushu performing arts.
“People would see me practicing Tai Chi and ask me to teach them. One
thing led to another, and it wasn't long before I began to be involved
in teaching group Tai Chi sessions,” she says.
ALTHOUGH NOT an actual instructor, Ben is also well experienced in Tai
Chi and leads the training sessions occasionally when his mother is
away. Ben works for a local consulting company and is involved in making
business connections between Israeli and Chinese companies. He travels
to China on business several times a year, where he acts as a agent and
buyer for Chinese-made products.
“Life in Israel is not so difficult, and we have gotten a lot of help
from local people,” Ben says. “We keep kosher and I am also studying now
to become Jewish.”
Ruth added that “it is easy to meet people here. They are usually very
friendly. I am lucky to be trained within a 400-year-old discipline that
gives me the physical and mental conditioning needed to deal with any
challenge in life.”
The session taking place in the park consisted of students from various
parts of Israel, including Haifa, Modi’in, Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem. Avi Hirsch, 37, who was born in France but lived several
years in London before making aliya with his family, lives in Beit
Shemesh and comes to Li’s Tai Chi classes every week. He and several of
his children are enthusiastic Tai Chi practitioners; they have been
studying Tai Chi disciplines with Li for over two years.
“I’ve always wanted to go to China to study the art. Now China has come
to me,” Hirsch, a practitioner of alternative medicine, says. He added
that practicing Tai Chi greatly benefits his physical, mental and
spiritual condition. Learning Tai Chi from Li is a “firsthand
“I often practice Tai Chi on Friday mornings, and doing so prepares me
mentally and physically for Shabbat, giving me a great sense of calmness
and satisfaction. Practicing Tai Chi even makes me drive my car
better,” he says.
He adds that practicing the exercise discipline results in a “flow of
energy” that has a positive affect on both his and his family’s
Another student, David, is a businessman in Netanya who looks much
younger than his 54 years. He has been studying Tai Chi with Li for
several years now, and feels that Tai Chi gives him the “physical and
mental tools” to better succeed in his business and personal life.
“Tai Chi, as taught by Li, gives me a self-discipline that has changed
my entire outlook on life. I’ve studied it in other places, including
the Israel Tai Chi Center in Tel Aviv. But nowhere have I found the
study of Tai Chi more satisfying than studying it under a master like
Ruth,” he says.
Michal, a new Tai Chi student, joined the group after seeing Li
practicing her daily training. “I was captivated and inspired by the
calmness and flow of her movements.
It was like looking at a peaceful, flowing river. This gave me the
desire to learn more about Tai Chi, especially from someone like Ruth.”
A typical Ruth Li Tai Chi training class begins with her and her
students coming together to form a group “energy circle” in which
everyone pledges to contribute their personal mental and physical
energies for the success of the practice session. The wearing of a
special costume is very important, says Li, as the loose-fitting garment
gives the body “more freedom of motion.”
Before the actual exercises begin, a “warm-up” period of a few minutes
is necessary to prepare the students. This includes requiring students
to stand straight with their feet apart and arms hanging limp at their
“Imagine you have a string attached upwards from your head, like a
puppet would” Li tells them. She adds that this “standing up position”
is the very first discipline new participants must master before
beginning the various Tai Chi movements.
The mouth must be closed with the tongue resting on the roof of the
mouth and the teeth closed. The eyes must be closed and one must feel
that “clouds are dropping on him.”
THE EXERCISE session itself is reminiscent of a film being shot in slow
motion. It includes a combination of Chinese Qigong disciplines such as
“dynamic training,” which involves special movements; static training,
which requires the participant to hold the body in a particular posture;
and meditative preparation that involves visualizing or focusing on
specific ideas, sounds, images, concepts or breathing patterns.
Li believes that practicing Tai Chi improves health and that the
difference in a person’s physical and mental health can be seen within a
few months. These health benefits include improved muscle strength and
body coordination, less joint stiffness, better balance, and an overall
calmness and sense of well-being.
“You do not need to think through the motions of the exercises, as the body ‘remembers’ the various positions,” Li says.
In addition to the sessions at her studio in central Netanya, Li also
teaches Tai Chi at the Green Place Country Club in South Netanya, as
well as in Ra’anana. She conducts special retreats and workshops in
kibbutzim and other locations.
Although she teaches several variations of Tai Chi, the most popular one
is the Cheng Ming, which has “one hundred movements and is the
foundation for training within the Cheng Ming martial arts system.”
“By studying Cheng Ming Tai Chi, we learn how to defend ourselves in
manners which can be part of instinctive self-defense movements should
we be attacked by an adversary,” Avi Hirsch adds.
Li’s students range in age from “three years and eight months” to 75.
They come from all walks of life, and include those recovering from
various health problems.
She is authorized to use the “Chinese Wushu” logo from the Chinese Government Qigong physical training authority.
Li took four of her Israeli students to a 2009 international Tai Chi
competition, in which two of them won medals. She often participates in
national competitions in China, as well as attending special workshops
held there by renowned Tai Chi masters, including Li Enjiu, who is her
trainer and mentor. She says that Li Enjiu is planning to visit Israel
“in the near future”; and adds that he is about to publish a book that
he wrote about Tai Chi disciplines, in which she is mentioned.
When Li’s Tai Chi sessions are over, her students thank her personally
for instructing them, and then return home, taking her training
philosophies with them to benefit their everyday lives. Her vision for
the future is that more and more people will join her current students.
“They come to me by ‘mouth to ear,’” she says.More information about the Tai Chi techniques Ruth Li teaches can be found on her Web site www.chinesewushu.co.il